Gig ticker     Red Shoes + Small Changes Cancer Research UK benefit gig at The Roadhouse B'ham Nov 26th...     TRIO (Fred Skidmore, John Caswell, Roy Adams) Free at Hare & Hounds 5pm B'ham Nov 28th...     Katherine Priddy solo show at St Paul's Jewellery Quarter B'ham Dec 5th...     Hannah Brown at Radio 2 Jo Whiley Introducing Showcase at Hare & Hounds B'ham Dec 9th...     Mahalia at Rainbow Cellar, Digbeth B'ham Dec 13th...     The Wonder Stuff + Rhino & The Ranters at O2 Academy B'ham Dec 17th...     Rhino & The Ranters + Horse Feathers at Hare & Hounds B'ham Dec 18th...     The Twang Christmas Show at O2 Academy B'ham Dec 19th...     UB40 + Steel Pulse at O2 Academy B'ham Dec 21st...     Rebecca Downes at Robin 2 Bilston Dec 21st...     Trevor Burton + Ricky Cool & The In Crowd + Zoe Green at Roadhouse, Stirchley B'ham Dec 29th...     Ocean Colour Scene 20th Anniversary Tour at Irish Centre B'ham Jan 9th...     

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Love what you do. Stay professional. Watch your back.

Swimming in shark-infested musicbiz waters. Sharpen your teeth and toughen up. 

I love the Music Industry in Birmingham. I'm only cheering from the sidelines: I don't have a stake. But it fascinates me, as do those who run venues, promote shows, or invest in costly recording kit. Then there's the snappers, the house concert superfans, bloggers, the radio guys, the video producers and more.

This week I had an engrossing conversation with Roy and Jaki Davis, a couple who built Madhouse Rehearsals and the Asylum venue into a solid proposition though sweat and grit.

I knew Roy from his days playing bass with Shy - a fine 80s Brum band, one of many whose talent and promise just weren't enough. 

We did a radio thing together. I got great stories. I also got some scary stuff. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The BBC's future (well, maybe) and the Beeb right now

Time spent this week with both the high and mighty and the grafters

A weekend back, I was bantering on air with Les Ross on BBC WM, doing the Sunday newspapers. Les had returned to his first station for their 45th anniversary celebrations. 

It ran very smoothly. Les was on top of his game, chatting with the newsreader, trailing down the day. It sounded great. We didn't exactly cover a lot of news; that's how it is with a presenter like Les. The vibe in the studio was terrific. A team of pros delivering effortlessly good local radio to a committed audience. It worked, really worked. 

Two days later I went to a meeting run by powers rather higher up in the BBC. This was much more buttoned up, and, dare I say it, a little tortured and convoluted.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Is Facebook over?

It's a question I'm asking most weeks. Musos might well be asking the same thing.

Over time, things grow, peak and decline. Everything has an allotted timespan, even global IT monsters. Those timespans are getting shorter. 

Facebook is posting fat profits because it's now a mobile platform: the app of choice for idiots texting at the movies. But the number of people actually sharing stuff is going down. And that has big implications.

I think this is about its usefulness to people like me and many others, possibly you too. I'm now wondering if it's still much use at all. My page hits from Facebook have dropped; from elsewhere, they're up.

Since at least 2013, there's been speculation that Facebook deliberately hobbles some types of posts, to get people to pay. I won't do that for my blog, which is a labour of love. It's ironic: Facebook gets free content and a data mountain to mine from us, but we're then supposed to pay to use it. 

I'm not happy, and I'm pretty sure other people feel the same. I wonder.... have we seen peak Facebook? And what might this mean for musicians?

Friday, 30 October 2015

Our local music ecosystem is brutal. That can actually be a good thing.

Studies in PR: deals and favours over there; music supported right here. 

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. Honest.
This past month, several pretty great music releases came out, all from local acts. Hannah Brown premiered her new single two days ago at Birmingham's Ort cafe. Chris Cleverley plays there there next week to launch his new album. Boat To Row are now dishing vinyl copies of their first album, with a celebratory hometown gig show soon, and Victories at Sea, fresh from an All Year's Leaving dj set, have come up with a gorgeously packaged first album, also marked with a gig. Last week's post covered Kim Lowings and the Greenwood's new album. 

All are local to the West Midlands; all are self-releasing, fiercely proud of their work, and all are engagingly modest. For all them, it's about the work and the creativity. They've all run through brick walls to get to this point. 

I'm sure that an awful lot of established artists feel the same.  But there's a critical difference. Once a national promotion machine kicks in, they're just... product. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Kim Lowings: the tricky path twixt traditional and brand new

Traditional music and powerhouse songwriting. Delivered digitally, of course. 

Photo: Laura Whittington
It turned out to be a busy day. I needed a rare vinyl 7" for a show I'm producing. There's only a few hundred copies. But, lo! a dusty copy is unearthed from a King's Heath attic.

Just as well I was in the neighborhood. Long before questions of exotic vinyl, I'd set up a chat not remotely to do with vinyl nostalgia.This was to be all about right now, with a storming folk talent: Kim Lowings.

Kim Lowings heads up Kim Lowing and the Greenwood: a powerful, articulate, highly intelligent folk-oriented local outfit. The new album swings between Kim's own songs, which are resolutely modern, and traditional material. And Kim just happens to have a fantastic voice. Comfortably settled in over coffee, it looks like things are starting to kick off for her and the band. But we did, actually, touch on vinyl. In the end.. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Vlad the Programmer: radio from the other side of the Iron Curtain, then and now

Ever caught up with people you used to work with? Laughed about the old days? Bet you didn't have days like these. 

Twenty two years ago, I was in SofiaBulgaria training a young radio guy in Selector, then the leading - pretty much the only - music scheduling software for radio. Pertinently, we also spent a lot of time on Western radio programming styles.

Vladimir Daynov is a big wheel in Bulgarian radio these days. Back then, he was the head of music at the fledgling FM Plus; I'd been sent out there by the then GWR group. Typically for the time, GWR had moved into Europe as the UK market matured. 

Eastern European radio was not exactly regulated; after the Iron Curtain fell, expectations were wildly optimisticNow, it's a lot closer to the Western model. That may or not be a good thing, depending on your point of view. We'll come back to that, Vladimir and me. We've been swapping notes for weeks... 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

You're in the studio at last after all these years. What now?

You know the songs, backwards. What happens when you go in the studio to record? Here's two different worlds with quite a lot in common.

    Ruby by Rich Shakespeare;    Chris by Alan Cole Photography         
I've been talking recording a lot recently. Last month, Chris Cleverley, an astonishingly talented and inventive singer-songwriter, wrapped up his first album; we talked about the process. If you've haven't seen seen Chris yet, by the way, go. Soon. 

Last week, I took tea with Ruby Turner, who is fresh from laying down vocals fronting Jools Holland's R and B orchestra. She's done over 15 albums of her own; she's a featured vocalist with Holland; she's guested everywhere. Ruby hasn't so much bought the t-shirt as designed the damn thing. So I asked her about the recording process too.

Two very different perspectives: tyro and veteran. I wondered if they had anything in common. Turns out they do.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jam Jah Mondays – they're baaaaack!

They thought it was all over. It isn't, now. A Birmingham Reggae institution steps it up

Robin Giorno is persistent. He's been cooking up reggae grooves in Brum for nearly twenty years, with his studio and the Friendly Fire collective. For well over a decade, Monday nights have played host to a freebie event mostly at the Bull's Head in Moseley, Birmingham: Jam Jah Mondays.

The Bulls Head has new owners now. Its days of frenzied music craziness are over. The place has great history – Sam Redmore and the Leftfoot crew ran nights there; Ben Calvert's Bohemian Jukebox, Brum Notes' live nights and many more have all left their mark. It was a small room, with iffy sightlines but great breakout areas.

So where have they all gone? Well, Sam's breaking through nationally, and not before time. And Ben's taken his Jukebox to the Hare and Hounds every other month. Now, JamJah Sound, after a short but worrying pause, are stepping it up fifty yards down the road, with a different landlord – now it's Keith, at the Dark Horse.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Kris's magic Mimu gloves part 2 – In the Studio

It's been seven months since Kris Halpin and I had a chat about his gloves. Boy, have things ever moved on.

There's been a quite a burst of publicity lately about Mimu gloves. They're one of Imogen Heap's latest projects: hugely dramatic sci-fi things. Wave your hand - cymbals crash! Point - a horn section blasts out. Waggle your wrist - strings and keyboards obey, playing the melody you map out live... by waggling your fingers. It's thrilling. 

Heap is front and central in a range of tech-creative initiatives: you can catch videos of her gloved up to the max. She's very open source, collaborating globally. 

In Tamworth, musician and songwriter Kris Halpin is pushing glove tech to new heights, writing new software when needed, forging new configurations. It's quite something for Kris to be one of the first 15 selected to test the gloves, a serious feather in his cap. But the MiMu folk weren't quite expecting that with Kris. He got the gloves for a very specific reason.  

So it's time to see what's what Kris has been up to. This time, I'm recording.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dub Qalandar - put this in your diary

Two cultures from ten thousand miles apart meet up in Birmingham, which just happens to be EXACTLY midway between. That's grounds for celebration.

Birmingham sits halfway between the centres of two of its most compelling and now deeply engrained cultures. Go five thousand miles one way, and you fetch up in the Caribbean. Go the same distance the other way? You're in Pakistan. 

Since the Second World War, cultures from both regions and elsewhere have been bumping up against each other, in inner city Birmingham suburbs... for seventy years. And now, beats and grooves are coming together, in a very deliberate, conscious way. 

This weekend Birmingham sees a Rugby World Cup games, thousands exploring a revamped New Street station and its shopping mall, and Birmingham Weekender, this year's Artsfest replacement. Add in relentless roadworks, and the city will be... challenging. But find your way to Symphony Hall on Sunday 27th, and you're in for a free but very valuable treat: Dub Qalandar. It's the headline show for all of the weekend. Conscious Dub grooves, and sacred Sufi songs coming together in Birmingham. Well, it's what we do.

Or, rather, it's what Mukhtar Dar and Simon Duggal do.